Last Saturday, a man shot a newspaper. Erick Erickson, a pundit and editor-in-chief of a blog called RedState, posted a picture on Instagram of a bullet-riddled copy of The New York Times, with a caption featuring such gems as: “The United States suffered its worst terrorist attacks since September 11 and the New York Times’ response is that all law-abiding citizens need their guns taken away. Screw them”; “I hope everyone will join me in posting pictures of bulletholes in the New York Times editorial”; and “#pewpew.”
Erickson decided to put his superior marksmanship on full display in response to a front-page article in The Times. The article in question was an editorial titled, “End the Gun Epidemic in America.” The last time the Times put an editorial on the front page, the year was 1920, and it was in protest of the GOP’s decision to pick soon-to-be president Warren G. Harding as their candidate for the upcoming election (“Harding […] is the fine and perfect flower of the cowardice and imbecility of the Senatorial cabal that charged itself with the management of the Republican convention”). This decision was newsworthy on its own, which seemed to be the point—that the “epidemic,” as The Times editorial board put it, could no longer be ignored.
Erickson’s reaction, while obviously violent and childish, is fairly typical of conservative rhetoric in this “War on Guns.” It was only two years ago when Mark Kessler, the then police chief of a little town in Pennsylvania, released a widely viewed video of himself finishing off a profanity-laden rant against gun control, John Kerry and the U.N. by screaming, “Come and take it, motherfuckers,” and firing an assault rifle for about five seconds. While these outbursts are anecdotal, the sentiment behind them is widespread.
“They’re coming to take your guns.” That’s been the inane refrain for years now, and it’s as misguided as the day it was first uttered. Gun control isn’t about trampling on American liberties, storming American homes to snatch the guns away or even about the Constitution. The issue is beyond constitutional. It’s a matter of national security.
There is simply no reason to sell or own the types of guns that are being found on the bodies and in the homes of so many mass murderers in this country. The perpetrators of the San Bernardino attack legally purchased semi-automatic rifles beforehand, and then easily modified the arms to become fully automatic. The Planned Parenthood shooter reportedly used an AK-47 on his victims. What possible legal use could a civilian have for that weapon? Gun and hunting culture are each viable and real, but when a hobby necessitates handling a deadly weapon or killing animals for sport, it’s fair game to question its fundamentals.
When I was a senior in high school, I spent a few months interning at a gun control nonprofit. I had only been there a few days when I made an apparently grave mistake—I used the term “gun control.” My superiors took me aside to let me know that I should present myself as supporting “gun violence prevention,” not “gun control.” Dozens of studies have shown that people react negatively to the term “gun control” and that even if people agreed with some of the basic tenets, the term turns them off immediately. Too many years of conservative vitriol toward the term, they told me, had made it toxic.
It has to stop. I refuse to tiptoe around the fact the United States of America remains, to paraphrase The Onion, the only developed country where mass shootings regularly happen. The gun discussion is getting buried under a mountain of lies, half-truths and political grandstanding—“We need more good guys with guns! Teachers should keep handguns next to the construction paper and lefty scissors! It’s a government plot! Bad guys will find guns anyway! It’s the Muslims!”—and, in this age of polarization, it’s only going to get more difficult to come together and pass meaningful legislation. There’s no doubt—fewer guns equals fewer deaths. No legislation is going to be perfect, and no one’s predicting that we’d see immediate change. But, unlike throwing up our hands or shooting some ink and paper, it would be a sign that our leaders actually care that policies (or lack thereof) are killing people.
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